Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Happy 169th Birthday, Laura Peters Woodland (1842-1916)!

Nita Woodland Welch's grandmother

Having already read about Laura Woodland's parents, David and Laura Peters, and her husband William Woodland, this tiny lady's life story will not be a surprise.  Yet do you know the prairie skunk story, of her near-drowning and promise to God, and her deathbed experience?  Read on to learn of a woman so charitable that she carried food to the needy under her apron to hide her good deeds from her children, a lady who loved beauty and flowers and created a refined home of fourteen children in the midst of wild Indian Idaho.
William & Laura
Born to a prosperous textile factory owner in Wales, Laura crossed the plains as a young girl.  Laura and her sister Sarah, thirteen months her senior, were like twins: Laura was stronger and Sarah more frail, so they seemed of the same age.  (This reminds me of Laura Ingalls Wilder with her sister Mary.)  Their other sister died in Wales, and six younger brothers were born in Utah.  While crossing the plains, one night a boy carried a cute black and white “kitten” in his hat into camp for Laura and her sister, but soon they had to let the pet go and bury the hat as they learned what a skunk was. 

Laura helped her father outdoors while her sister helped her mother indoors.  On one trip with her father to the canyon for wood, a bear stood in the path and would not let them pass for some time.  At last he let them go without harming them.  On another occasion, Laura was at a neighbor’s when an Indian came wanting bread, and raised an ax threateningly over her head.  Laura ran outside waving a white cloth to call help from men in the fields.  Fortunately, the Indian thought this was funny and hurried away laughing. 

Her mother made new May Day dresses for her daughters from riding skirts she’d had in Wales, but unfortunately rain canceled the celebration.  In Laura’s teens, the family moved south when Johnston’s Army came, and during that time Laura went for a boat ride with some young people on Utah Lake.  They nearly drowned and Laura prayed to the Lord and promised that if he would save her, she would never go on a boat again.  He did, and she kept her word.  

She grew into a petite dark beauty, with a scar on her left cheek from a broken glass injury.  Laura first met her future husband at age sixteen visiting in Farmington, when William rode up to a watering hole and showed off the tricks he’d taught his horse.  Three years later, William came to Brigham City to visit his nephew Henry, and the two young men rode past two young ladies walking.  They stopped to talk and invited the girls to ride on the back of their saddles.  William said he’d lasso his choice, and Laura rode on the trick horse with him.  This time she learned his name and the courtship began. 

William proposed, and Laura’s father thought their family was too refined for a rough scout, but William said he’d be back for his answer in a week.  Several local Church leaders sought Laura as a polygamous wife, thus there was much ill will towards this intruder.  Secret meetings and proposals were held with her father, but Laura wanted a man of her own choosing.  When William returned, he said to her father, “Well, sir, what about the little horse trade I spoke to you about?” Laura’s father told him, “I might as well say yes, she says she will go with you anyway.”  However, the elders withheld a temple recommend from the young couple.  Due to his Church service, Presidents Young and Kimball had promised William that he could be sealed as soon as he found a suitable bride.  Laura and William arrived at the Endowment House, where Heber C. Kimball was summoned and married them.

They began married life in Willard, Utah, but William wanted to run a ranch and found what he wanted in Marsh Valley, Idaho.  While he was away, their son died, and Laura just wanted to be together.  She moved up with him, and became the first white woman to make her home in wild Indian Idaho territory.  Her nearest neighbor was six miles away, and Laura continued to be “heap scared” of the Indians due to several frightening experiences with them, at one point being ill for weeks after a scare.  Laura was once very sick and became numb all over; those with her thought she was dead and laid her out for burial, but she said later that she knew William wouldn’t let them bury her alive. 

In Idaho the Woodlands had a problem with things in the home going missing, and suspicion often surrounded the group of workmen.  One day a shoe was lost and in desperation, part of the floor was taken up and a whole tub full of things found that had been carried off by mountain rats.  The school and stagecoach came, and workmen ate their meals with the Woodlands.  Once a stagecoach driver asked if he could leave a shipment of gold with her because he was afraid of being robbed. Laura hid the gold behind the wood box, and the stage was held up that night but no money found.

Laura and William had fourteen children, but she never felt her family was too large.  She was very particular that her children bathe, change from morning to afternoon clothes, and have their hair well-kept.  Two of her children died young, and when her married daughter Celia died, Laura raised her two daughters as her own.  Despite her sorrow, Laura always praised the Lord and was grateful for her lovely family.  It was said that she loved first little children, and next flowers.  William called her his “angel wife.”  Often she prepared food to take to those in need, but would put baskets and packages under her apron rather than be conspicuous about it.  Her own education proved important in raising her family, as William didn’t read and Laura contributed to learning in the home, reading the Bible and Deseret News aloud each night.

Laura was the Relief Society president for nineteen years, and Laura and William lived their religion every day of their lives.  Her faith was as constant as the North Star.  She never wanted riches for her children; her one great wish was for them to be honest and true to their convictions.  Patriarch John Smith, a boyhood friend of William’s, visited and blessed Laura that she would never want for the necessities of life, which was true.  She had a soft and sympathetic voice and could never see anything but good in anyone, was quick in action, and kind and gentle. 

William was a decade older than his wife and he also preceded Laura in death by a decade. Widowed Laura was considering a risky investment of a thousand dollars in banana stock.  William appeared to her, embraced her, and told her that she had sufficient to live on and not to proceed with this wildcat scheme.  Laura was in a buggy accident at age fifty, and suffered a back injury and resulting nerve spasms and intense pain in her face for many years.  At the end of her life, she was very ill with gallstones, and told her son that William was going to come the next day at 6:30 to take her home, and “Father has never told an untruth.”  She also saw her three dead children as spirits on her deathbed.  When Laura died, light came to her eyes and a look of joy in her face: William, ever-prompt, was there to receive her at 6:30 as he had promised.

I am honored to share my half-birthday with this courageous woman, and would offer her a beautiful bouquet of flowers, her greatest love after children (and she already had enough of those!).


  1. I'd give her something to help her with the Indians. Maybe one of those things you squeeze when you hyperventilate?

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful glimpse into the life of my great-grandmother. I have been thinking about her a lot during the past month. She truly was and is an amazing woman.

    1. I should have signed the post I wrote above. My name is Claudia Reeder Walters.

    2. Thanks for reading and commenting! She was quite the lady!